On Personal Lenten Observances

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While some difference of opinion exists (when doesn’t it?), Lent is a season of reflection in the Anglican tradition.  Of course, and rightly so, this season of reflection incorporates themes of self-examination and penitence.  It is a time following the joy of the Advent and Epiphany seasons in which Christians contemplate core values and personal priorities in light of the sacrifice made by Christ for humanity’s sake.  It is not a step backward from the proclamation of the Epiphany as much as it is a step inward in response both to the heavy burden promulgated by sin and to the appropriate actions of those set free from that sin by the coming triumph of the resurrection and ascension.  Consequently, Lenten observances ought to be directed toward those ends, and will necessarily be highly individualized and deeply personal.

As such, I feel like my Lenten observances should take a few things into consideration (I guess you could say I have to do some preliminary reflection in preparation for a season of reflection, ironic).

/1/  What has been ruling my life this year?  If experience has taught me anything, it is that I tend to fall into patterns of behavior.  Last year, I realized that “funny” tends to rule my behavior.  I had been willing to do or say many things simply because they were funny.  I’m sure its easy to see how quickly this can become detrimental behavior, but it was also a tool I used to trivialize issues I felt were out of my control.  What kinds of things/behaviors can I give up or practice that will bring those places in my heart back into submission to Christ?

/2/ What has been hindering my worship?  I go through seasons in my life that are characterized by doubt or frustration.  What kinds of things/behaviors can I give up or practice that will bring the broader picture of Christian worship back into focus for me?

/3/ How have I neglected the things God has called me to do in life?  Because I live in a rich country and have many resources (family, friends, colleagues, as well as sufficient monetary means), I can get distracted.  What kinds of things/behaviors can I give up or practice that will remind me to live for others and not for my own pleasure?

What kinds of things do you work through in your personal Lenten observances?

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8 Comments

  1. Lent is certainly a time of reflection, but its also a time of temptation IMO.

    Remember that the evil one tempts Christ in the desert.

    After fifty years I have to say that I’ve gotten wiser in selecting things to refrain from and others to perform because its been my experience that even simply things going into lent turn out to be hard. Like giving up adult beverages and you have a friend from college who asks you to be in the wedding party and you have to attend the bachelor party, followed by the rehearsal dinner the next night which falls on a Friday during lent and they serve great steaks which I’m abstaining from.

    So then you think its a temptation or perhaps its God creating an opportunity to show me how weak I really am.

    Or the wonderful habit I have a talking to myself about all the bad drivers I encounter on the road and give that up for lent. It seems the number of crazy drivers goes up exponentially when I make that vow.

    I think you guys should have a list of the broken Lenten promises. That would be interesting.

    Reply

  2. Quickbeam,

    I think you raise an important (and perhaps neglected) point. Something that I have always found interesting is that most folks who are into the whole “spiritual warfare thing” within the charismatic/protestant tradition make no official observances of seasons like Lent. I would think they would flock to such disciplines, but what do I know, huh?

    As far as failed vows are concerned, sadly all of my vows are failed vows in one regard or another. Of Lenten vows, I caught myself most of the way through family meals (I was fasting meat, and meat was being served) just chomping away happily at a chicken leg. I was so disgusted with myself, because I didn’t even have a moment’s remembrance of my vow.

    Reply

  3. Well the great thing about Christianity is the ability to get up and improve the next time. I think your way to hard on yourself. Don’t make vows you don’t think you can keep and don’t make to many of them. IMO the objective should to to remain faithful to the Lord. Not that you’ve asked for my advise but I’d pray about it and focus on a single aspect of your life that you believe God wants you to reform in your life. Then pick a aspect of that failing and work to overcome it.

    In today’s society secularism has so influenced Christians to compartmentalize their personal lives that we shelve our Christian vocation so as to not conflict with the world. That’s a very dangerous road to travel.

    We wouldn’t think of serving a pig product to an Orthodox Jew or a Muslim. That’s because they have made it a religious point to do so.

    About the only secular impact lent has is McDonalds rolls out the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. Pretty sad the other of course is Fat Tuesday which is totally counter to Lent.

    On occasions where your meeting extended family I think you should eat the meat, rather then bring it up that your fasting. Then establish a means to decline the next time or bring it up with them in private after that its lent and either don’t invite you, change the day or serve something else.

    In my church its not well known that we are obligated to perform some action to remember that Christ died on Friday through out the year not just lent. The church felt that modern society was “mature” enough to be permitted to chose for themselves what action they should do to honor God. As anyone can see the modern man needs the discipline more so then those in less comfortable times. And effectively no one outside my 93 year old mother fasts on Fridays through out the year.

    On the Charismatic’s I can’t really say other then they don’t live a liturgical calendar. I think its is very helpful to live out the live of Christ through all the seasons. Most Christians observe Christmas and Easter, but little else.

    It’s difficult however because all these obligations seem to get turned upside down as working for salvation, when its simply proven methods to improve your life, walk the path and honor GOd.

    Reply

  4. Quickbeam,

    “Well the great thing about Christianity is the ability to get up and improve the next time. I think your way to hard on yourself. Don’t make vows you don’t think you can keep and don’t make to many of them. IMO the objective should to to remain faithful to the Lord. Not that you’ve asked for my advise but I’d pray about it and focus on a single aspect of your life that you believe God wants you to reform in your life. Then pick a aspect of that failing and work to overcome it.”

    I may have been too quick to verbalize an internal feeling. I merely meant to communicate (out of an interesting anthropological disposition that is at once “high” and “low”) that I feel like my default setting as a human being is to be treacherous, though with God’s help I have been tenaciously faithful to many vows. So, even though the Spirit is perfecting me and conforming me to the image of Christ, I know that given my way I would never be faithful and so in some sense all of my vows have been violated ontologically (does that make any sense?).

    “On occasions where your meeting extended family I think you should eat the meat, rather then bring it up that your fasting. Then establish a means to decline the next time or bring it up with them in private after that its lent and either don’t invite you, change the day or serve something else.”

    It’s interesting that you bring this up, because I never turned anything down that was given to me (if I was visiting someone’s home). I felt like it was more important that I honor Jesus’ injunction not to publicize my fast than to honor my vow to abstain from meat (with the exception of the example I gave you, of course).

    “It’s difficult however because all these obligations seem to get turned upside down as working for salvation, when its simply proven methods to improve your life, walk the path and honor GOd.”

    I cannot tell you how many times this mindset has put me at odds with protestants. I am just not able to figure out why they do not see it.

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  5. Protestants still think that our biggest temptation is to earn salvation by doing good works. I’m not sure that has ever been a temptation for me. Must have been a big deal in Europe a couple hundred years ago, though. I mean, how many u.s.americans do anything remotely good enough to even start down that path.

    The whole fear of ‘works righteousness’ smells a lot like ‘I can do whatever the f… I want to and still be a disciple of Christ.’

    As for me, I have to admit that being a disciple of Christ is very hard and I NEED the discipline of church tradition to, as Paul says, make my body my slave.

    Reply

  6. Dude, that exact verse was my centering prayer this morning!

    “Lord, help me to discipline my body, and keep it under control so that I may glorify you with it.”

    And your comment expresses the impetus behind my post on “Jesus is my best friend” Christianity. I need that discipline, too.

    Thanks!

    Reply

    1. I’ll one up the conversation. We may not “earn” salvation, but we work it out in tandem with God working in us, so ascetical practice actually materializes and “constructs” salvation. It’s that whole “resurrection of the body” thing: Salvation is physical.

      Reply

  7. Consider what Graham Ward says about Barth which I believe applies to Reformed and Protestant dogmatics (and so the interaction of faith and action/sanctification/works/etc… in general):

    “Barth [has] no account of the economy of desire and the production of faith, discipleship, and personal formation”– Ward, Christ & Culture

    Reply

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